The holidays are over and your child is still in the honeymoon phase with their brand new smartphone, laptop, or gaming system. Now comes the hard parenting work: we raise our kids to be polite and respectful in person so how do we stress those same values in the online environment? A digital citizenship contract can help you spell out expectations for appropriate online behavior, sending a clear message about how seriously you take your child’s safety and online reputation. Involve your kids in the process, outlining a contract to start a family dialogue about issues that may arise.
Here’s a checklist of points to cover in the contract:
Treat others with dignity and respect. In other words, treat people the same way you wish to be treated, just like in person. Unacceptable behavior includes posting/texting cruel remarks, gossiping, bullying, using profanity and impersonating others.
Think before your post. “Teenagers are all about instant gratification. They aren’t necessarily thinking: ‘well, if I do this, how is this going to affect the other person? How’s this going to affect my life in the future?’” says Sarah Manriquez, a licensed clinical social worker.
Remind your kids to ask themselves questions like: “Would I want Mom or Dad to see this?” and “Would I be embarrassed if everyone in school saw it?”
Show empathy. Explain that when they forward or share photos/texts/video that are harmful to a peer, they inadvertently condone cyberbullying. Also, steer clear of mean-spirited chat rooms where anonymous members dish up snarky, cruel comments for entertainment.
Ask permission. Before logging into someone’s personal device, ask first and then log back off of the device when finished. Tell your child that before downloading an app, he needs to discuss it with you first.
Personal accountability matters. Errors of judgment happen and kids are still learning. Immediately address the situation together, whether they need to craft an apology or remove a comment or photo.
Don’t talk to strangers. Some free texting and gaming apps permit members to connect with other members even if they aren’t “friends.” Emphasize that exchanging text messages with someone they don’t know is the same as talking with a stranger.
Guard personal information. Avoid sharing personal information with unknown individuals in a chat room or a public forum like email address (don’t use your email as a user name), street address, social security number, school name, birthday or photos with geotags.
Assume everything posted is public. Texts, images and posts can be saved and shared. Mine the latest news, TV shows and other media for examples that can lead to conversation and empathy-building opportunities.
Ignore attacks. Tell your kids to let you or another trusted adult know if someone bullies them. Reacting or retaliating generally adds fuel to the fire. If the bullying continues, your child can politely ask the person to stop; report the behavior to the content provider; and/or block the individual. Preserve the evidence and contact law enforcement if your child feels scared or threatened.
Check out thatsnotcool.com, a site for kids featuring scenarios and text responses to help kids manage cyberbullying, dating violence and awkward peer situations like password requests and gossip.
Establish boundaries. Declare certain times of the day, the car or areas of the house as no-phone/no-device zones. At the end of the day, power down and store electronic devices in a central location of your home.
Stress that privacy is earned. Because you are ultimately responsible for your child’s behavior whether online or off, have access to all passwords, check their phones and visit the apps/social media networks they frequent regularly.
Pledge not to text and drive. Finally, if your child is of driving age, include a pledge on your contract that states a promise that he will not text and drive. Consider watching the 30-minute documentary by Werner Herzog together called “From One Second to the Next” on YouTube.
Clearly state consequences. Consequences could include loss of devices, limitation of screen time (except for required school work) and suspension of driving privileges.
Sign here. After your child signs the commitment, hang it up near your computer or on your refrigerator as family reminder. Review and adjust as needed.